Why do the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book still struggle to catch on?

After two weekends in theatres, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is still doing great, with a smaller audience drop-off than most superhero movies, and bigger returns than most of Marvel's recent film fare. People just love those rascally space rogues! By coincidence, Marvel editor Tom Brevoort also shared in his recent newsletter that this week marks the 15th anniversary of Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (Vol. 2), where the modern version of the team first appeared. On Wednesday, Guardians of the Galaxy #2 (Vol. 7) will hit comic book stores. Curiously, there has been a roughly 18-month publication gap since the last iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy book. Before that, there was three year gap where Marvel wasn't publishing a Guardians of the Galaxy comic book.

While it's not uncommon for modern super hero comics to reboot their numbering with new creative team changes — readers are more likely to buy a #1 than a #2, and even more likely than they are to pick a random issue #317 — I find it odd that those breakout characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe have failed to find their footing in the actual comic books that spawned them.

To be fair, the popularity of Marvel movies has rarely translated to any direct upticks in comic book sales. But the Guardians still feel like an outlier in a number of ways. When the first film was announced, it was a helluva gamble. It was not embracing the weird outer space elements — and Marvel Cosmic can get weird — but it also featured characters like a talking tree who only speaks one line, over and over and over again. The Guardians were not just alien to movie-going audiences who had previously been excited about Hulk and Thor and Captain America; they were also largely alien to comic book readers. As Brevoort notes in his newsletter when talking about that original 2008 run of the comic book, "The series was a solid seller but never a spectacular hit, and it ran for about two years before it was rebooted by other hands."

Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and Spider-Man had these decade-long publishing histories (plus various other media adaptation attempts) that had cemented them as icons in the minds of modern American popular culture. But not the Guardians. When the movie was first announced, that team — and the versions of the characters who sort-of go on to appear in the movies — hadn't even been around for five years.

The plus side of this short history is that James Gunn had a lot of wiggle room. His version of Star-Lord was no longer an ex-Messianic Space Cop with PTSD struggling to retain his connection to his home planet; he was a rogueish, wannabe Han Solo. His version of Drax was no longer a, uhhhh *checks notes* human saxophone player who was killed by Thanos and then had his soul forced into a bioengineered warrior body by Thanos's dead, programmed for the explicit purpose of killing Thanos; he just a badass alien fighter who was also a lovable moron. Honestly, that was probably a good call (although it means we did miss out on our chance to see Dave Bautista playing sax). His version of Nebula is no longer just a sort of cypher of a space pirate baddie, but actually tragic and compelling! Gunn was both smart, and lucky in that regard. Few people (except maybe me) had any real investment in the characters that would make up the cast of the first Guardians of the Galaxy film. So you could make some major departures from the limited source material (which was already pretty weird to begin with!), without having to worry about fan backlash.

Even more curious is that the James Gunn/MCU versions of the characters have largely come to supplant for Comic Book/616 counterparts. Marvel has typically aimed for some light synchronicity between the comics and movies; if a character is going to show up in a movie, it makes sense to try and find a way to make them show up in the comic books around the same time, too, without dealing with direct continuity connections or anything. But the Guardians of the Galaxy comics took this even further. They changed Star-Lord's entire backstory, erasing all the messianic space-cop stuff (until Al Ewing recently reconciled it) in favor of a more Chris Pratt-like personality. Even Star-Lord's kidnapper-slash-adopted dad, Yondu, got his own series to distinguish him from the existing character of Yondu, who was more of a stereotypical Native American Noble Warrior type of alien (and who also from the 31st century). Marvel also tried to build more relationships between the Guardians and the more earthbound heroes; during Brian Michael Bendis's run on the title, the Guardians included such characters as Iron Man, Kate Pryde, The Thing, and even Venom amongst their ranks.

And yet…the comic book still never quite found its legs. There are some great runs in there; I think Gerry Duggan did some underrated work around Infinity Wars, especially with Drax, and Al Ewing has been doing all kinds of fantastic work around Marvel Cosmic, including his time on the Guardians. I even enjoyed the very brief attempt to revive the original Guardians of the Galaxy from the 31st century (side note: I was disappointed that Sylvester Stallone's version of Starhawk did not share a body with his own step-sister slash ex-wife, with whom he was trapped in a timeloop). But despite Marvel's efforts to align the comic book Guardians with the movie versions that everyone loses…the Guardians of the Galaxy comic just never seems to catch on that much.

My best theory for why this could be is about the star power. Reading about the adventures of Star-Lord is not the same as watching Chris Pratt be Chris Pratt. Even if Rocket Raccoon and Groot sound the same in your head, you might just be longing for the on-screen charisma of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. I get it.

But man, it's a shame. 'Cause I love the Guardians of the Galaxy, in all their weirdness (including that original 31st century team, 'cause man, there's awesomely weird shit in that book like Dr. Doom making himself immortal by putting his brain inside of Wolverine's adamantium skeleton. Oops, spoilers!)

Anyway. There's a new issue of the new volume of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book out this week. I liked the first one. You should check it out. Maybe this time, it'll stick around for a while.